Monday, October 20, 2014

The Color of Joy

I’m scribbling notes as my pastor talks about the first miracle Jesus performed.  I know this story, but I still have questions.  I always have questions. I tune out momentarily to absorb what I’m hearing because I process slow and steady: 

“Wine is a symbol of joy.”

I add it there to the page underneath the words “John Chapter 2” and somehow I know God is speaking words personal and timely into the very crevices of my heart. Jesus turned water into wine and He performed a miracle in my own life when He turned a dead end into new life in the form of a precious baby girl. I have known Joy ever since the miracle. It is the singular word- the only word- that adequately describes the emotion bubbling wildly out of me. It’s my baby girl’s middle name.

About a year and a half ago God asked me in the silence one morning to trust Him. And I could hear Mary’s words, “Do whatever He tells you.” Whatever He tells you. However hard it is. For as long as it takes, trust Him.  Follow Him.  Even in the face of fear.

And I had. For an entire year. I had trusted Him with the most precious thing in my life- my family.  He said He would grow it.  He said He wasn’t finished. And I chose to trust Him.

The fear was present every step of the way, its grip rooted deep in the pain I’d encountered over the past eight years. The most painful part of my journey wasn’t the waiting. It wasn’t the longing for a child. It wasn’t the repeated no’s in a sea of others’ yes’s. It wasn’t the labels I’d worn: forgotten, unloved, childless. It wasn’t feeling helpless and hopeless for months, then years at a time. Those parts were painful, yes.  But the hardest part- the most painful part- was the blood. Not physically as much as emotionally. Spiritually.

The blood was evidence that something once alive was now dead. It was the color of grief. Raw.  Unexpected. Unwelcome.

All I could think about when God said, “Trust me,” was the bright red tear drops I knew so well. I was terrified my obedience would only lead me back to that dark place of doubting God’s love and sovereignty, of feeling the anger pulse through my veins, of isolating myself from anyone who even thought to get close.

This summer I flew across the country to a writer’s conference.  I met with publishers and my mom told me to wear red. I told her I didn’t like red. It didn’t suit me, excite me, and I didn’t want to wear red. After a friend proposed that God might be trying to grow my faith by speaking through other godly women, I sent my mom a quick text asking whether the wardrobe suggestion was hers or God’s.  Her response: “From God.”

And so I wore red. Nothing elaborate or extravagant happened the day I wore red. No one seemed to notice the pregnant lady in red.  Except Jesus.  He noticed.  And that day He initiated a conversation with me about joy, and months later we are still deep in discussion.

All these thoughts and not-so-distant memories are tumbling around inside my head as I sit in the pew and write out that tiny word: Joy. Three letters strung together so tightly have meant the difference between darkness and light, between shadows of doubt and bright, shining hope, between longing and contentment.

I decide right there on that Sunday morning that joy is red.  Deep burgundy, like pressed grapes crammed into a wooden barrel, left to mature with time. Joy is bold celebration. Joy blushes and Joy spills. Its stain is not easy to remove. Joy thrives.

And God is asking me all over again to wear red. He has given me this Joy and I want to wear it well. But what I cannot shake- and it troubles me for weeks to come- is that this color of Joy matches the color of my deepest pain.  How can they coexist in one tone on the Artist’s palette of colors?

Death and life. Pain and celebration. How can this be?

The red words in my bible lying open in my lap remind me of the blood that redeemed my life. Red spilled into death but the story didn’t end there. After Jesus died, after He conquered the same death that snatched His breath by walking out of that grave, He met with His closest companions. He showed them his hands that wore angry, jagged scars of red and then He returned to His father in heaven.  Luke recorded it all in his gospel.  He wrote that the men and women who witnessed all this also returned home… “with great joy.”

The color of death bleeds into the vibrant color of life. Drops of grief age into the deepest shade of beauty. Sorrow makes way for unspeakable joy.

And Jesus is the Way.

I have worn this color, begging for God to remove it.  I’ve despised it and made every attempt to avoid its clutches at all costs. Until God asked me to trust Him. Now I see that it wasn’t about Him removing the distant memories or erasing or covering over that red with another color.  He left the color exposed, splashed right there on the canvas, so He could create a masterpiece on the very same surface… in the very same tone.

His design involves restoring what’s already there. Only God can hold together what has fallen hopelessly apart. Only God can turn mourning into dancing, pain into purpose, and sorrow into joy. 

Only God knows the depths of the color of Joy.

As the words rush out onto smeared page, I realize that the red I now see is evidence of the Father’s Love. He loved me when I wept over what could have been. He loved me when I pummeled angry questions at a God I still did not know. He loved me in my grief, in my turning away and then back to Him; He loved me as He watched Jesus’ blood stream crimson down that hill.

And He loves me now as I wear Joy. 

My son and my daughter- beautiful gifts from a God who loves without limit- share a birthday and a birthstone. A tiny red ruby dangles from a silver bangle to mark the day their lives with us began.  Weeks after this sermon, I think to look up the birthstone that matches the anticipated birth date of this unexpected miracle I’m carrying. When I learn it’s a garnet- a vibrant, deep red that signifies eternal friendship and trust- I experience the Father’s love all over again, fresh.

His love is in the details, small as they may seem.
His love is in the suffering, in the deep pain of broken hearts.
His love is in every step that demands our trust.
His love is what creates Joy, deep and bold and fully alive.